Wine consumption and expenditures are associated with a host of demographic variables including income, age, race/ethnicity, education, gender, family type, etc. Based on a statistical analysis of household level consumer expenditures, all are important determinants of wine spending in the United States. As you might expect, income plays the dominant role. But you might be surprised by the second most important variable – it’s education.
I won’t go into the details of my statistical results here, but I’ve summarized the relationship between wine expenditures and both income and education in the charts below. I’ve divided households into four income quartiles (e.g. upper-income households represent the top 25% of the distribution) and two education categories: those in which at least one adult had achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher and those without a college graduate.
The underlying data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditures Diary Survey, which tracks the daily expenditures of approximately 6,000 households over a two-week period every year. They include both on-premise and off-premise spending but exclude business related spending (e.g. wine purchased at a business dinner) as well as purchases during vacations. In order to minimize sampling variation, I’ve pooled data from the most recent three years available.
Wine’s class divide is readily apparent. The first chart demonstrates the strong relationship between wine expenditures and income. On average, upper-income households spend more than three times as much than middle-class households and more than eight times more than those in the bottom quarter of the distribution. The top 10% alone accounts for 36% of all wine sales.
But the chart also illustrates that it's not just about money - education plays an important role as well. Households with college degrees spend substantially more on wine across all income categories. For example, the high-income / college graduate group spends more than twice as much on wine per household than the high-income / no degree group. The differential grows to more than three times for the low-income group.
The spending differential is partly related to the fact that college graduates tend to spend more on alcoholic beverages in general. But this is only part of the explanation. As the second chart shows, highly educated households devote a greater share of their alcohol budgets to wine at all income levels. Within the upper-income group, for example, wine garners a 44% share among households with college graduates – but only a 28% share for those without.
Thus the working class represents a potential opportunity for wine. Households in the lower 75% of the income distribution without college degrees comprise 52% of the total but account for just 18% of all wine expenditures. They spend just 23.5% of their alcoholic beverage dollars on wine – compared to 37.4% for college grads in the same income range.
A closure in this gap could provide the industry with a much needed boost in an environment of decelerating growth. True, working-class households may be more price sensitive, particularly at the lower-end of the income distribution, and wine is more expensive on average than either beer or spirits. Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasonable quality wine options available at a price per serving on par with these alternatives.
If the industry is to realize this opportunity, it will need to make entry-level wine more appealing, and perhaps less intimidating and pretentious, to working-class consumers. Recent innovations including wine in cans and kegs are a step in the right direction, but more research needs to be done to understand the preferences of the various demographic segments within this broad group and how to market to them more effectively.
Chris Bitter, PhD